Crime-plagued Mount Vernon will have more police officers patrolling its streets and more detectives working cases this summer thanks to a joint effort between the city's police department and Westchester County Police.
County Executive Rob Astorino and Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis announced the program at an afternoon news conference in front of City Hall. Under the agreement, Westchester County will provide between five and seven uniformed police officers on supplemental shifts and an unspecified number of investigators from the county and the district attorney's office who will work with Mount Vernon's detectives on homicide cases, county police spokesman Kieran O'Leary said.
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The patrol officers will be accompanied by a commander from the county, but they won't operate independently from Mount Vernon's cops, O'Leary said.
"No one knows Mount Vernon better than the Mount Vernon police do, so working alongside them is a force multiplier on any given evening," he said.
The extra officers will hit the streets on "busy summer nights," officials said. Over the past two weeks, when police quietly implemented the program before announcing it publicly, the county provided extra manpower on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but O'Leary said police will randomize the supplemental patrols and fluctuate between a uniformed and plainclothes presence to provide "an element of unpredictability."
That's also the reason why, although it's described as a summer program. There is no official end date when the county will stop providing extra manpower. O'Leary said police don't want Mount Vernon's gangs and drug dealers to know when extra eyes are on them and when they're not.
Astorino compared the arrangement with the kind of cross-municipal agreements neighboring police and fire departments engage in during emergency planning.
"Just like when a major crime occurs anywhere in this county, there will be multiple agencies under mutual aid that would assist," Astorino said. "And this is no different."
With some 67,000 residents, Mount Vernon is a relatively small city with a high violent crime rate. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were six murders, nine rapes, 249 robberies and 394 assaults, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. Statistically, 10 out of every 1,000 people in Mount Vernon are victims of violent crime, the data show.
Crime is not the only problem facing the city police department. In late February, a Newsday report revealed the FBI is investigating members of the department for alleged ties to Mount Vernon street gangs.
Thursday's announcement comes a day before Terrance Raynor, a 50-year-old former officer with the Mount Vernon Police Department, is set to be sworn in as the city's new police commissioner. Raynor will fill a position that has been vacant since Feb. 19, when former Commissioner Carl Bell was fired by Davis. The mayor took over day-to-day operations at the 205-member department before appointing a deputy commissioner. Police are not permitted to communicate directly with the public, and all police communications come directly from the mayor's office.
Responding to Wednesday's announcement, county Democrats accused Astorino of orchestrating a "political dog and pony show" to score points with voters as he campaigns for re-election.
Legis. Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), who has expressed interest in the city's mayorship, claimed Astorino was simply reviving a program that existed under his predecessor, former County Executive Andrew Spano.
"We have serious issues of gun violence here in Mount Vernon, where several young men recently have been killed or seriously injured," Williams said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. "I just don't believe these tragedies should be used as political schemes designed to increase popularity and political support."